Irishon the BBC
Chapter 6 of an online drama for learners of the Irish language (intermediate level) - 20 chapters. Written by Pól Ó Muirí. Additional resources in association with the Ultach Trust.
Is fearr rith maith ná drochsheasamh A good run is better than a bad stand.
1. Some compound words
We have already seen the compound word drochrud, made up of droch = bad and rud = thing. There are two more examples of droch in this passage, drochsheasamh and droch-chomhairle. You already know the word droch. The word seasamh means a stand, and the word comhairle means advice. It’s easy to guess that droch-chomhairle means bad advice. The term drochsheasamh means a bad stand, in the sense that an army, or an individual, may make a stand.
The literal meaning of Is fearr rith maith ná drochsheasamh is ‘A good run is better than a bad stand’. Its equivalent in English is ‘Discretion is the better part of valour’.
Notice that, in compound words, the initial letter of the second word is aspirated. This is generally the case. There are exceptions, but only grammatical nerds will want to know them. If you are a grammatical nerd, the rule goes something like this. Otherwise skip to the next bit. If the last letter of the first part of a compound word is the letter ‘n’ and the first letter of the second part begins with a ‘d’, or a ‘t’ or an ‘s’, do not aspirate it. If you are a real, proper nerd who wants to know more, you will have to look somewhere else.
2. More words with ‘droch-‘
Here are some other compound words with droch-:
drochbhlas (blas = taste)
droch-chaint (caint = talk)
droch-chlú (clú = reputation)
droch-chroí (croí = heart)
drochdhóigh (dóigh = state, way)
drochíde (íde = treatment)
drochscéal (scéal = story, news)
Tá drochbhlas ar an fhíon sin – That wine tastes bad
Stad den drochchaint – Stop using bad language
Tá droch-chlú ar an duine sin – That person has a bad reputation
Bhí droch-chroí riamh uirthi – She always had a bad heart
Tá drochdhóigh air – He’s in a bad way
Thug siad drochíde dom – They treated me badly
Fuair mé drochscéal inné – I got bad news yesterday
Drochshaol is used in a particular way. The word saol means ‘life’, or ‘world’, but drochshaol while it can mean a hard life, or hard times, also, with a capital letter, has a specific, historic meaning:
Bliain an Drochshaoil means The Famine Year, particularly 1847
Aimsir an Drochshaoil means the time of the Great Famine (1847-52).
The word uair can mean an hour (usually with a chloig), or a time.
Bhí mé ag fanacht níos mó ná uair a chloig – I was waiting more than an hour
Seo an dara huair agus an uair dheireanach a dhéanfaidh tú sin – That’s the second and the last time you will do that
But in the compound, drochuair it means something else:
Ar an drochuair - unfortunately
3. Liking in Irish
Thaitin an scéal léi – She enjoyed the story
This is one of those idioms that requires a preposition not used in English. The verb never stands on its own, but is always accompanied by le, and the le always refers to the person who is doing the enjoying:
Thaitin an scéal liom – I enjoyed the story
Taitneoidh sé leat – You will enjoy it.
Ar thaitin an cheolchoirm libh? – Did you enjoy the concert
You can also use a related noun taitneamh, in this structure Bhain mé taitneamh as an scéal which also means ‘I enjoyed the story’.
There are many ways of expressing liking or enjoyment in Irish. McKenna’s English Irish Dictionary, sadly long out of print, lists nearly forty idioms. Sometimes these can be used interchangeably, but sometimes one particular idiom is more appropriate than another, and sometimes the wrong idiom can sound very wrong. No book, no course can teach you when to use them or when they are inappropriate, but listen out for them, and you will gradually pick up how they are used. Here are some of the most common idioms, with wholly inadequate notes:
Is maith liom ceol – I like music (This cannot be used in the past tense)
Is breá liom ceol – I am very fond of music (works in the past tense only in the hands of an expert)
Is aoibhinn liom ceol – I am very, very fond of music
Is grá liom an ceol – I love, just love, music, and I am using this rather excessive expression because I am a rather excessive person
Thaitin an ceol liom – I enjoyed the music
Bhain mé sult as an cheol – I enjoyed the music
Tá dúil agam sa cheol – I like music
Chuir mé dúil sa cheol clasaiceach – I enjoyed classical music (this idiom hints that there is a process going on here, that there was a time when the person speaking didn’t like classical music, or was indifferent to it)
4. I must
An té nach bhfuil láidir ní mór dó a bheith glic – Who is not strong must be clever (proverb), or, literally, ‘the person who is not strong must be clever.
Irish distinguishes between two kinds of cleverness. Cliste means smart, intelligent, quick-witted. Glic implies deviousness and cunning, describing someone as being smart only in the sense of smart-alec, or cute, in the Irish sense of being untrustworthy rather than the American sense of being dainty and having large soulful eyes. Normally, you would expect the word glic to be something of an insult, but it also often reflects a certain grudging admiration. The closest translation of duine glic could well be the Hiberno-English phrase ‘cute hoor’.
There are nearly as many ways of saying ‘I must’ or ‘I have to’ in Irish as there are of saying it is raining. Ní mór dom is one of them. The same proverb could be, and often is, expressed in the following ways:
An té nach bhfuil láidir caithfidh sé a bheith glic
An té nach bhfuil láidir ní foláir dó a bheith glic
An té nach bhfuil láidir is éigean dó a bheith glic
An té nach bhfuil láidir tá air a bheith glic
5. Some verbal phrases
Bhí orainn aghaidh a thabhairt ar an fhadhb – We had to confront the problem
There is no single verb for ‘confront’ in Irish, and the concept has to be expressed with a simple verb (tabhair), a noun (aghaidh) and a preposition (ar). This construction really means ‘face’, or ‘face up to’ and also means ‘go in the direction of’:
Thug mé aghaidh ar an fhadhb – I confronted the problem
Thug mé aghaidh ar an bhaile – I headed for home.
Rachaidh sí i mbun gnímh – She will begin to act. The idiom involving the verb to go, and the compound preposition i mbun (followed by a noun in the genitive – gníomh means action) does not make much literal sense. However, like all these idioms, you soon become used to it:
Chuaigh mé i mbun gnímh –I began to act (took action)
Chuaigh mé i mbun oibre – I set to work
Tá mé buíoch de (Mháire) – I am grateful to (Máire)
The use of the preposition here is worth noting. In Ulster Irish, the preposition de is often interchangeable with the preposition do, so the sentence Tá mé buíoch díot – I am grateful to you, is more often said Tá mé buíoch duit. This is common to other idioms. The standard idiom for ‘tied to is ‘ceangailte de, but in Donegal you will generally hear ceangailte do.
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